Returning to Work, Revamping Commuting Habits

Smart Cities Dive spoke to UCLA Luskin’s Donald Shoup for an article on companies attempting to change employees’ commuting habits as they return to in-person work. Historically, private car travel has been the predominant way U.S. workers get to work. An estimated 85% of employers offer free on-site parking, compared with just 13% that offer a transit subsidy, the article noted. Increasingly, employers are offering incentives to encourage commuting options including public transit, walking, biking and carpooling — and disincentives to drive alone, including raising the cost of parking. Shoup, a distinguished research professor of urban planning, is a proponent of the “parking cashout.” This system provides employees the option of compensation in the form of cash or other transportation benefits in exchange for giving up their free parking benefit. “All we’re saying is, when you drive, you pay. When you don’t drive, you save,” Shoup said.


A Fee to Ease Manhattan Traffic

News outlets covering New York City’s plan to charge a congestion fee to drivers entering the most traffic-choked parts of Manhattan called on UCLA Luskin transportation experts to provide insight. Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, told Gothamist that New York is unusual in that nearly all of the curb spaces are unmetered. “This is some of the most valuable land on earth, and you could use it free if you bring a car,” he said, calculating that the city could generate $6 billion annually by charging $5.50 a day for every free curb parking spot. Urban Planning chair Michael Manville told the Associated Press that American cities should take heed of London’s experience, where several exemptions to a congestion pricing program have contributed to the return of clogged streets. “There’s always going to be carve-outs,” he said. “But the further and further you start going down that road, there lies madness.”


‘A Parking Reform Zeitgeist Across America’

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, spoke to Cleveland Scene about zoning reforms that are easing requirements for parking spaces in new developments near major transit corridors. The changes have pleased builders and city planners but put many residents and business owners on edge in the car-friendly city of Cleveland. “We created a world where you have to have a car, because parking is free in most places you go,” said Shoup. Now, “no one wants to sacrifice their car for the greater good.” Shoup has long argued that the rules requiring a minimum number of parking spots are arbitrary and obsolete. He hailed the overhaul of zoning ordinances in Cleveland and several other cities over the last few years, part of what the story called “a parking reform zeitgeist across America.”


Shoup on Parking Reforms Taking Hold Across the U.S.

Media outlets covering new parking policies in cities across the United States spoke to UCLA Luskin’s Donald Shoup, whose decades of research in the field helped bring about the reforms. Smart Cities Dive profiled three cities — San Francisco; Boulder, Colorado; and Seaside, Florida — that have instituted systems that adjust parking rates according to demand. The policies embrace a new way of valuing urban real estate and provide a mechanism for investing revenues in neighborhood improvements. “If curb pricing were priced right, people would never be desperate for parking,” Shoup said. The distinguished research professor of urban planning also spoke to Grist about Austin, Texas, which just became the largest U.S. city to eliminate rules requiring a minimum number of parking spaces in new developments. Shoup said the move could pave the way for denser housing, increased public transit options and reduced carbon emissions.


Shoup on Cities’ Attempts to Take Back Curb Space

CNN spoke to UCLA’s Luskin’s Donald Shoup about why cities across the United States are cracking down on free curbside parking. Curb space is prime real estate for pedestrians crossing the street, residents looking for parking, workers dropping off food and deliveries, bicyclists, emergency vehicles, garbage trucks, sidewalk restaurants, electric vehicle charging stations and more. So a growing number of cities are removing free parking and charging for spots based on demand. Shoup, the dean of parking researchers in America, has been an advocate of such reforms for decades. “You pay for everything else related to cars. The one thing you don’t pay for — curb parking — is a mess,” he said.


If You Want to Reform Parking, Don’t Mention the Word ‘Parking’

The influence of UCLA Luskin’s Donald Shoup, the renowned advocate for parking reforms designed to make cities more livable, is taking hold across the country and around the world. In an extensive interview with the Hindustan Times, Shoup explained how India could build public support for eliminating free parking, the cause of gridlock and pollution, by using revenues to benefit the community. “If you want to reform parking, don’t mention the word ‘parking,’” Shoup advised. “Just ask people what public services are lacking in their neighborhood. Once you find out, tell them you don’t have money to pay for that. But one way that other cities have done it is to charge market prices for curb parking and spend that revenue to pay for services that people want. … It’s the neighborhood that decides.” Shoup added, “India is the country that will benefit most from parking reforms. One city does it right, and other cities will do it too.”


Shoup on Pasadena’s Proposed Prorated Parking Plan

UCLA Luskin’s Donald Shoup joined StreetsBlogLA’s SGVConnect podcast to discuss parking in Pasadena as the city nears approval of a new strategic parking plan. If approved, it calls for market-based prices on city and shopping district parking based on popularity, or demand. The plan also envisions longer parking durations. “It is an improvement,” said Shoup, author of the classic 2005 book, “The High Cost of Free Parking.” Shoup said of the report provided by consultants for the new plan: “They recommended just about everything I would recommend.”  He also noted Pasadena’s experience with implementing the latest technology. “I think that there are these two things that have helped in Pasadena … putting in the parking meters to manage the parking and two, spending the revenue with the right place,” he said.


Shoup Weighs In on Parking Debates, From Napa to Virginia

UCLA Luskin’s Donald Shoup weighed in on proposals to reform parking policies on both sides of the country. In downtown Napa, California, some business owners fear that a plan to eliminate free parking could disrupt a tourist boom, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Shoup countered, “There’s a lot of evidence that we can make things much better with meters,” particularly if revenues are used to fund improvements such as sidewalk paving and landscaping. In Fairfax County, Virginia, homeowners are fiercely resisting a proposal to overhaul requirements that developments include a minimum number of parking spots. Shoup told the Washington Post that continuing to prioritize the storage of cars “will be looked back on as a horrible mistake,” and spoke to CNN about the lasting damage to the economy caused by rigid parking mandates. Shoup’s decades-long scholarship has also been spotlighted in reviews of the book “Paved Paradise” by Henry Grabar in publications including the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Common Edge and the California Planning and Development Report.


Shoup, Butler on List of Most Influential Urbanists

Two UCLA Luskin Urban Planning scholars were included on Planetizen’s newly released list of the top 100 most influential urbanists from the past and present. Distinguished Research Professor Donald Shoup, whose writing and research have launched fresh approaches to parking policy, was No. 6 on the list, up from his No. 13 spot on Planetizen’s 2017 compilation. His rise in the rankings can be attributed to a wave of parking reform legislation around the country, inspired by Shoup’s work, the publication said. Urban planning doctoral student Tamika Butler, former executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, is No. 57 on the list. Butler achieved national prominence speaking and advocating on the subjects of racial justice and transportation policy. Planetizen said the rankings, based on reader feedback on a list of 200 top urban thinkers, is aimed at broadening the discussion about the leading figures of planning, development and conservation.


Aspiring Urban Planner Chews Into Use of City Property for Outdoor Dining Graham Rossmore’s research has already influenced Los Angeles policy decisions

By Les Dunseith

In recent months, UCLA Luskin graduate Graham Rossmore has become a go-to expert for Los Angeles officials who are studying the economic pros and cons of continuing the al fresco dining that sprang up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Does the economic benefit of allowing outdoor dining on public property outweigh a loss of revenue from, say,  parking meters?

Rossmore received his master’s degree in urban planning in June 2023, and he dove deep into that question and a host of related ones as part of his capstone project at UCLA Luskin. He found that, indeed, continuing outdoor dining would outweigh a loss of various revenue sources — along with a whole bunch of other benefits.

“Al fresco encourages more people walking, or people choosing to take alternative modes of transportation — and enjoying their neighborhoods,” Rossmore said.

Throughout UCLA Luskin, capstone projects like those in Urban Planning offer a chance for soon-to-graduate students to wrap up their UCLA education with a monthslong examination of a timely public policy issue. While student researchers often work with local government agencies as their clients, few have the opportunity to influence citywide policy decisions immediately. But that’s what happened for Rossmore.

An American born in Canada, Rossmore lived without a car for much of his 15 years in California. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, he began his urban planning studies with a focus on rail and bus transportation — which led him to a course taught by Donald Shoup, the distinguished research professor at UCLA Luskin who is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on parking.

“For whatever reason, parking policy speaks to me,” Rossmore said.

Shoup’s class gave Rossmore the opportunity to explore whether cities should continue what had begun as a temporary COVID-19 response — converting outdoor public spaces into al fresco dining spots. He focused on the Rustic Canyon neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, where he lived at the time.

The number of off-street parking lots there outnumbered restaurants, and when restaurants converted some of that parking into al fresco dining, they took it seriously.

“They spent a lot of money,” Rossmore said. “They have lights. They have fixtures. They’ve got heating. They’ve got seats.” He said some restaurant owners he interviewed in spring 2022 told him they had doubled their sales and expanded their customer bases.

A summer internship followed with the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who is now council president. One connection led to another, and Rossmore soon found himself working part time on the city’s Al Fresco Dining program in the parking meters division of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

young person with beard and checkered shirt stands in front of poster about curbside dining

Rossmore and other students pursuing master’s degrees in urban planning present their capstone research findings during a poster session each year. Photo by Les Dunseith

The project helped inform his capstone project, and vice versa. He learned the ins and outs of sales tax, of which 99% goes to the state, while typically 1% is remitted to the city. Yet Rossmore found that the al fresco dining generated enough tax revenue to offset lost revenue from parking meters.

During presentations to LADOT leaders and city officials, Rossmore has highlighted many of the broader benefits of al fresco dining for local municipalities: Greater sales tax revenue represents higher overall economic output, which means happier business owners, customers and city officials.

He also discovered another plus of outdoor dining: More residents tend to eat closer to where they live, which brings all the benefits associated with reduced vehicle use.

“And when we take away parking spots, restaurants haven’t reported a lack of customers or people coming in and complaining, ‘I don’t dine here anymore because I can’t park,’” Rossmore said.

Rossmore’s capstone report analyzes three formats for al fresco dining — on sidewalks, on streets in formerly metered spaces and in private lots — each of which entails its own regulatory considerations. Sidewalk dining, for example, falls under the purview of the Department of Building and Safety because of the need to meet safety codes and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On-street dining is the focus of LADOT’s roadway dining initiative, and an LADOT report that cited Rossmore’s findings was sent to the Los Angeles City Council, recommending that businesses be allowed to offer curbside al fresco dining, so long as they pay a fee that would help offset lost parking revenue.

Even with his capstone project complete, Rossmore, who also serves on the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, has continued researching the subject. He has also analyzed the costs and benefits of al fresco dining in several other corridors — Larchmont Village, San Pedro, Westwood Village, the NoHo Arts District in North Hollywood and Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

“The sales tax in 2022 in most of these corridors is almost double pre-pandemic levels,” said Rossmore, noting that other parts of the city that lack al fresco dining, like Hollywood and Studio City, are collecting significantly less sales tax revenue than they were before COVID-19. “That suggests that the al fresco program not only was successful in keeping the businesses afloat — so that they didn’t close during the pandemic — but it also increased sales tax for the city and generated more profit for the restaurants overall.”

Rossmore also was asked to present his capstone research to officials at the Department of City Planning, which is developing the ordinance for outdoor dining in private, off-street parking lots. On April 27, he presented findings that only around 3% of al fresco dining was in on-street metered spaces.

“My client and I were able to speak at the public hearing and to demonstrate how off-street dining is the lion’s share of the program,” Rossmore said.

Soon after, the City Planning Commission issued a letter of determination to create a path for businesses to make outdoor dining a permanent feature. And the city’s chief executive has weighed in.

“Al fresco shows us a better way that supports small businesses, creates jobs and adds vibrancy to our neighborhoods,” Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. “I directed city departments to work together to make this a permanent al fresco program that incorporates everything that made the temporary program successful and to make the process simple and easy to navigate for our restaurants.”

Two years ago, Graham Rossmore had no inkling he’d find himself telling city officials why it makes sense to convert public spaces into outdoor dining spots.

“In my personal statement to get into UCLA Luskin, I didn’t say, ‘Leaving this program, I’m going to be a parking expert,’” he said with a smile of satisfaction. “But that’s where I’ve ended up.”

View additional photos from Careers, Capstones and Conversation, a showcase of each year’s individual urban planning projects

Careers, Capstones and Conversations 2023